For context see the Metropolitan Joseph: The Scandal section in our Archives 2020-22 linked at the top of this page.


Bishop John (Abdalah)
Diocese of Worcester and New England, Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese
Chairman of the Temporary Operating Committee

Clergy and laity who had joyfully anticipated the dawn of a new day in the life of the Antiochian Archdiocese—with the expulsion of the dictatorial, adulterous, predatory Metropolitan Joseph Al-Zehlaoui from office and the hope-filled promises of Patriarch John—now report themselves sinking deeper and deeper into a swirling vortex of skepticism, cynicism, anger, and even rage. We are now approaching eight weeks since Orthodoxy in Dialogue published Ms. Helena Ditko’s explosive email (her full name now used with her consent), over four weeks since the Patriarch forced Al-Zehlaoui to “request” “retirement,” one week since we published Al-Zehlaoui’s amorous voicemail referenced in Ms. Ditko’s email, and four days since we published previously widely circulated allegations that Al-Zehlaoui’s most zealous defender (and harshest critic of literally everyone else while dripping with piosity) and presumed paramour, Jasminka Chenich Gabrie, has received from Al-Zehlaoui hundreds of thousands of Archdiocesan dollars over the years through a “monthly salary” and work contracted to her art gallery and remodeling business.

The proverbial straw that threw many of the Archdiocese’s clergy and laity into a rage was the secret report from the farcical “investigation” into allegations against Al-Zehlaoui of sexual predation of women under his spiritual authority and/or in his paid employ. “Investigator” and attorney Paul Gaspari appears to have been instructed by Emile Sayegh, general legal counsel for the Archdiocese, first, to compose a report as explicitly or implicitly exculpatory of Al-Zehlaoui as possible; and second, to time the release of the report to the Holy Synod to coincide with its fall meeting a full four weeks after the “investigation” was ordered suspended. 

In the meantime, the random visitor to the AOCA website is left to assume that Al-Zehlaoui is the living saint who remains the primate of the Archdiocese.

Finally, the website fails to acknowledge this week’s fall meeting of the Holy Synod, at which Al-Zehlaoui’s and the Archdiocese’s future are presumably to be determined. As of this printing, our source in Lebanon reports that the Synod’s meeting, which would have normally concluded yesterday, is expected to go through Monday or Tuesday. Al-Zehlaoui’s status  and the future of the Archdiocese have yet to be adjudicated.

What provokes the headline of today’s report—Is there an echo in Englewood?—is the word-for-word reprint, a mere week after its initial appearance, of an editorial by Bishop John (Abdalah), chairman of the Temporary Operating Committee and auxiliary (not an actual diocesan bishop in the canonical sense of the term) for the Diocese of Worcester and New England.

Habits and routines save us time and allow us to function without thinking about all the little things that need to be accomplished before we can leave the house and start our day. These habits bring us a sense of security and allow us to put our attention toward the complex things that we deal with. We people like routine and good habits give us a sense of security.

Sociologists tell college students that the world has changed more in their lifetime than in all the centuries before it. Add to a quickly changing world a pandemic and changes in our church administration, we could expect feelings of insecurity, anger, defensiveness, and unsettledness. The last place that we want or expect change is in our Orthodox Church where we claim a consistent witness to the unchanging Lord. The truth is that we need to change all the time to keep our consistent witness to the truth of God’s revelations.

With the requested retirement of Metropolitan Joseph, many of us are overwhelmed with feelings. These feelings are rooted in our long personal relationships with Metropolitan Joseph, both positive and negative, as well as the feelings that come with any change. Even positive change comes with losses from the old routines and habits. These losses, like all losses, need to be grieved and follows the well-known grief emotions of anger, shock, bargaining and depression. The fact that we are Christians does not exempt us from feeling. We should recognize these feelings as understandable and even normal.

We Christians are people with emotions; we Christians are also the people of the Resurrection. We are baptized into Christ and Christ shares our lives even as we share His. When we face uncertainty, we face it knowing that God is with us. We are not alone. God is with us, loving us and leading us through the valley of uncertainty to a place of peace.

During this time of uncertainty, I was blessed to celebrate an ordination this week. A man and his family gave themselves to God. In turn, the Church received him and gave him to a church community to help renew and lead. The whole Archdiocese is born anew with every ordination because the whole Archdiocese needs to change routines and habits to make room for this new voice of witness and life. Likewise, we must remind ourselves that the Church is larger than all of us as individuals. Church history is full of examples of strife and difficult times, but the Church survives them because it was established by Christ and is the ark of salvation. It doesn’t rise or fall because of any individual cleric or layperson.

When I was young, my grandmother would cry out “na’eeman” (rebirth) “نعيما” when we emerged from the shower. This is the same cry that people would make when a baby was lifted out of the baptismal font. Within our daily lives are reminders that God is with us in all that we do.

Patriarch John X and the Holy Synod of Antioch have been in constant contact with us offering encouragement and reassuring us of their care. We are truly grateful for this and trust that God, through them, will provide us with the leadership we need during the nomination and election process for a new metropolitan. As details of the constitutional process become available, we will keep the faithful informed.

God is with us, understand all nations, that God is with us.


Three comments:

First, not only is last week’s editorial reprinted today, but redated today. There’s no indication that it was already posted a week ago. The link for last week’s posting (which we shared with our Facebook group for discussion at the time) brings the reader to today’s post. Second, its verbatim reiteration of last week’s post says nothing new about a situation that changes by the day, as if the Holy Synod were not currently meeting. Third, and perhaps oddest of all, the editorial is slated for publication in the November issue of The WORD Magazine. Will there really be nothing new to say by November?

This failure to address the elephant in the room—directly, plainly, forthrightly—this bedtime story manner of talking to the faithful, infantilizes the clergy and laity of the Archdiocese and perpetuates Father Zain’s gag order of August 25.

To be clear, we have received only positive reports of Bishop John’s character and pastoral skills. He finds himself in an unenviable position at this moment of crisis. It is our hope and prayer that he not turn a deaf ear to the concerns expressed above.

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